When free agency began on July 1st, many Capitals fans hoped that GM George McPhee would make a splash in free agency, as he has almost every year in his tenure. However, in the days and weeks following the opening of free agency, McPhee has filled his roster with low-risk signings that have potential. One of these signings with an especially high potential reward is winger Wojtek Wolski, who was signed to a one-year, $600,000 contract on July 11.
Wolski, 26, was born in Poland but has spent the majority of his adolescent life and entire career in North America. After playing major junior with the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League, for which he holds 11 franchise records and shares another, he began his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche, who picked him 21st overall in 2004 – the same draft that saw Washington pick Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Jeff Schultz selected in the top 30.
Standing 6’3” and weighing over 200 pounds, Wolski is a big, skilled forward who has the talent to immediately help the Caps fill the void left by Alexander Semin’s presumed departure. Though he did not expressly say it, McPhee hinted at this when asked about Wolski on the final day of the Caps’ annual summer development camp.
“A former first round pick that’s had some real productive years in the League, then sort of fell off,” he said. “I get seduced by talent from time to time. I like it, and we have a good group of forwards that are big and play hard and this is an opportunity to add some talent in there. We like the move and hope that it works out for him and for us.”
Unfortunately, Wolski’s last couple of seasons have not been up to par for a former first round selection. The 26 year-old winger has been on five different teams since the beginning of the 2010-11 season, and both of his last two campaigns have been derailed by injuries.
“Last year was a lost year for him,” McPhee added. “But here’s a guy with some ability, and there’s an opportunity here. The ability is there, and I think the commitment is there as well.”
That ability is undeniable. Since breaking in to the NHL full time in the spring of 2006, Wolski has only failed to top 40 points once in a full season. His career year came in 2009-10, which he split between Colorado and Phoenix and compiled 23 goals, 42 assists, and 65 points in 80 games. It is also important to note that Wolski accomplished these numbers while playing in Colorado and then Phoenix – two clubs that recently have not had the talent on their roster that Washington currently has. If he can stay healthy and remains in the top six, I think there is a good chance that Wolski can approach, if not surpass, his career averages.
Moreover, Wolski is a player who possesses the puck even when he fails to put up big numbers, which is an important statistic to note. In the five available seasons on BehindtheNet.ca, beginning with 2007-08 to present, Wolski has an average annual relative corsi of 4.24. He has accomplished this against comparatively difficult competition, as well, facing above-average minutes in each of those seasons. So not only has he tilted the ice in his team’s favor, but he also has been able to do so against some of the other team’s better players. As Adam Oates moves the Capitals away from their sit-back, anti puck-possession system of the Dale Hunter era, Wolski has the potential to be an engine for Washington.
Lastly, Wolski has displayed excellent skills in shootouts, which are critical for picking up points in today’s NHL. Since he entered the League, Wolski has converted 25 out of 57 shootout attempts, an astonishing 43.85% success rate. Wolski has only had one season in his career with a success rate lower than 37.5%, topping out two seasons ago in Phoenix when he converted 83.33%. Obviously, shootouts are not a sole reason to be excited about a player, but when a player has historically been able to help his team in the skills competition, it adds value. Especially when Wolski will be joining noted shootout specialists Mike Ribiero and Matt Hendricks in the Washington lineup.
Obviously, it is important to note that Wolski is a player who has come under fire in recent years for not having a very good work ethic and has been a healthy scratch on multiple occasions over the last two campaigns in addition to his injury struggles. But with his two-year, $7.6 million contract now history, Wolski is healthy and should be motivated to produce – and even if he doesn’t, the risk is almost non existent.
Overall, Wolski has the potential to come in and be a very good fit on a Capitals team that now lacks some of the top-six scoring depth that it has had in the past. With only four true, proven top-six forwards currently on the roster, Wolski has the potential to be a great signing for the Capitals in a market that became full of bloated and at times irresponsible free agent contracts (shocking, I know). This chance is only improved if he plays with Nicklas Backstrom and not Mike Ribiero and Alex Ovechkin – which he should.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.